previewed on PC
The Ghost of Christmas Past
I used to read Nancy Drew books when I was younger, although it must have been five or six years since I’ve picked one of them up. I would have been around thirteen then, which makes sense - the books were originally aimed at ‘young adults’, and the games follow the same grouping, with no profanity or extreme violence, despite the mystery theme. The games are often billed as being educational games for young adolescents, which is fitting. They tend to involve a lot of problem solving, with very little inappropriate content.
It’s not surprising that I’ve read the Nancy Drew books - there are several hundred of them, which have sold well between 1930, when the series began, and the present. The Nancy Drew games are no less prolific, with Nancy Drew and The Phantom of Venice being the eighteenth installment in the series. So what does this latest game have in store for us?
Nancy Drew, Girl Detective
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Nancy, she’s an eighteen-year-old sleuth, comparable to, say, the Hardy Boys, Mysteries Inc. or that Sherlock Holmes TV-series spin-off that involved a teenage girl. In feel, the games themselves are mostly comparable to the Phoenix Wright series, with the same themes of clue gathering and mystery solving. Only with rather more detailed graphics - so good that they look like photographs, similar to those in the Myst series, only with beautiful Venetian landscapes. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems Her Interactive have kept the standard of graphics satisfyingly high - even if the games do lack the dramatic action scenes apparent in other games available today. This isn’t a bad thing - the lack of inappropriate content - violence and swearing - is somewhat refreshing.
Gameplay consists of Nancy wandering around, solving a variety of puzzles, and talking to people who might be able to shed light on whatever the mystery might be - in this case, busting an underground crime ring, led by the mysterious Phantom of Venice. Nancy herself is rarely, if ever seen, since the game is played from her viewpoint, although it’s rumoured that this will change in Phantom of Venice. A number of new characters are introduced as suspects, ranging from a generous artist, to an aging countess, to a journalist. Each one has a both a motive and an opportunity to have committed the crimes - it’s up to you to figure out which one of them it was. You’ll do this by searching through clues and dialogue, and putting them together - in the words of Sherlock Holmes, eliminating the impossible until whatever’s left, however impossible, must be true.
The game is loosely based on the Nancy Drew novel of the same name, and has more of a spy-feel to it - in contrast to its predecessor. Many people felt that Nancy Drew and the Crystal Skull was too scary.
As mentioned earlier, the game is aimed at a slightly younger audience than most games, and many parents approve of the educational content offered by the numerous puzzle-solving involved in the series.
Organic Storyline and Difficulty Levels
Her Interactive have also discussed the possibility of having the storyline develop according to dialogue choices. This would allow for a more organic evolution, rather than following a purely linear plot. Although this hasn’t been fully achieved yet, it is something we’re, apparently, going to see slightly more of in this latest installment. So, while the plot will still be linear, choices made in dialogue will have a small effect on how information is given to the player - allowing for a slightly different experience for each person.
In previous games, a variety of difficulty levels have been available, and it seems this will continue, with players able to choose between playing as a junior or master detective. The difference will be in the difficulty levels of the puzzles, making them easier for less experienced players or more difficult for those who like a challenge. Don’t worry, though - for those who find Junior a little tricky, a strategy guide is already available.
In short, Nancy Drew and The Phantom of Venice, while building on its seventeen predecessors, seems to bring few striking innovations to the table. However, the experimentation with new features, such as the more organic storyline, could lead to a much better game in future. If you enjoyed the previous games, or the books, chances are, you’ll enjoy this - particularly if you’re a teenage (or pre-pubescent) girl with a crime-solving bend. If you’re interested, pre-orders have already begun. But don’t hold your breath for The Phantom of Venice - it seems that Her Interactive is still holding back, experimenting in order to make a later Nancy Drew game the best yet.